Drug policy in Argentina: Contradictions between discourse and practice

Argentina’s position at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs.

Argentina’s stance at the UN’s international summit on drugs was ambiguous. Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra, head of the Argentine delegation, sustained on the one hand: “we are very pleased to observe the level of understanding and consensus achieved in regard to human rights as an essential and indivisible part of how we address and resolve the global drug problem.” On the other hand, she encouraged “frontal assault” on drug trafficking and referred repeatedly to the “scourge” of drugs, comments in line with the positions most wedded to the current “war on drugs” paradigm.

This ambiguity is not reflected in Argentine state policies, which have prioritized the response of the criminal justice system at the expense of public health and the possibility of regulation and control of these substances.

In January, the government declared a security emergency and has since carried out police operations like the one in the shantytown known as Villa 31, which stigmatize entire neighborhoods. The criminal justice system (police, prisons and courts) commits serious human rights violations on a daily basis. Until a revision of the current law on drugs is not taken on, a contradiction will persist between the objectives of devoting efforts to the biggest drug trafficking players and what happens in reality: the arrest and detention of vulnerable persons and minor players.

In order to implement public policies that focus on people, the state must allocate more resources for damage control, education, prevention and territorial work.

Despite the fact that the process at the summit in New York culminated this week without achieving progress in terms of a comprehensive review of the international system in place over the past 40 years, the break from the consensus on the prohibitionist paradigm became evident. This change requires that Argentina reform its practices in order to develop public policies focused on human rights and the reduction of violence.